Dennis Hopper did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Tom Ripley in The American Friend.
Dennis Hopper plays the role of Tom Ripley who is probably best known currently from The Talented Mister Ripley where the character was played by Matt Damon. After watching Hopper's performance I probably have developed even more reservations towards Damon's performance as I feel his whole approach is flawed. Both the film's and Damon's approach of making him overtly homosexual, and his sexual urges being made a driving force behind his actions, takes away perhaps too much of the mystery out of the character. Also Damon probably just goes about a fairly obvious psychopathic creep approach to the character and makes it far too easy to read Ripley in every turn of he film. This is not that case for Dennis Hopper's take on the character, although I will admit that is partially helped by the way Ripley is cleverly implemented in the film by director Wim Wenders, since he is not the lead in the film, although I would say Hopper borders lead.
The main story follows the seemingly normal man Jonathan (well played by Bruno Ganz), and Ripley periodically comes in and out of his life. Jonathan first meets because of his job as a picture framer, and Ripley's current criminal activity selling the paintings for a painter who pretends to be deceased. Hopper doesn't play Ripley as an obvious psychopath from the beginning of the film even though he obviously stands out being an American in Europe, and seemingly trying to reinforce that fact even further by often wearing a cowboy hat. Hopper carries himself in a certain way here that is quite compelling as it becomes hard to read exactly who Ripley really is. Funny enough his earliest scenes are technically where he seems most the villain. When he first meets Jonathan, Jonathan brushes Ripley off due to Ripley only being in the art world for money. This is something so chilling about Hopper's reaction in the moment as if it is in this instance that Ripley has decided to make Jonathan his new game.
Ripley goes about doing this by telling Jonathan's illness to a man who goes to offer Jonathan the "opportunity" to become an assassin for hire. The film follows Jonathan who goes through with the killing after apparently receiving a diagnosis which appears to indicate the worst for him. During this time we get a few scenes with Ripley which are fantastic, almost silent, moments for Hopper's performance. Hopper does not portray Ripley as spending his time alone as some normal criminal mastermind, say a Hannibal Lector type, drinking wine, listening opera that sort of thing, or even killing people. Hopper is very interesting as he portrays Ripley as possible a lonely man who is perhaps trying to find his life for himself, such as when he leaves his seemingly meaningless recording to himself. There is perhaps a loneliness as Hopper portrays Ripley reflecting on his own place, and Hopper is outstanding in the way he creates Ripley as enigma while allowing us to still allow us to meet this strange man.
Eventually Ripley comes back into Jonathan's life, but not in the way you might imagine. Ripley, perhaps trying to find some place for himself, comes to Jonathan's shop in a rather friendly fashion. Hopper is great in these scenes as he doesn't let you perfectly read Ripley here. He may be there to actually improve on their initial meeting or perhaps to lead Jonathan down a path of even darker path than the one he's already on. Hopper keeps that often piercing stare and a certain oddness about Ripley that suggests the unorthodox nature of him. Hopper though brings a rather surprising warmth to the part though as he begins to speak more kindly to Jonathan and it seems as though might form an actual friendship. Hopper manages this without compromising Ripley as a character, and seems to show the warmth to come from the part of Ripley that wants to find something to attach himself. Hopper is quite effective as he slowly seems to reveal that perhaps there is some good nature to Ripley, well good nature for Ripley.
Ganz and Hopper have surprisingly great chemistry together and they are absolutely believable in their interactions. They create this casual ease of two good old friends, and it's quite fascinating that they manage to pull it off. This leads Ripley to not only suggest that Jonathan not take another assassin job but to actually come to Jonathan's rescue when he ends up doing it anyway. Jonathan's second murder is on a train and it is a virtuoso scene for Hopper. Hopper is extraordinary in this scene as he seamlessly maneuvers Ripley's constantly changing manner. In one instance he offers such a comfort with Ganz and as well a certain, oddly even disturbingly, fun as two friends play a game of sorts as they try to dispose of some bodies without getting caught. Hopper never loses the weight of the situation though and he's particularly good in the moment where Ripley murders one of the men as Hopper shows the full psychopath in the man. It's an amazing scene and one that Ganz and Hopper realize brilliantly.
Hopper's portrayal of Tom Ripley here is consistently fascinating as he makes a convincing friendship between a normal man and a psychopath with the psychopathy of the man hardly being a secret to the other man. It's not surprising that Wenders landed on the title of The American Friend as that whole aspect of the story is what makes the film so memorable. Hopper is chilling in the ways you would expect for Tom Ripley, but it is particularly intriguing that he delves into a greater detail with the man. His Ripley is a complex man and he even manages to be moving in the part. The final scene where he is abandoned by Jonathan is honestly affecting, as Hopper so tenderly portrays Hopper's sadness as Tom has lost someone that he actually connected to and cared about. This is a fantastic performance by Dennis Hopper as he is anything but a typical antagonist, which he is since he does cause Jonathan's descent into darkness, as he is strangely enough able to make Ripley almost the hero of the film as well.